An introduction to co-op education

By Rob Taylor

Here is a brief introduction to university and college co-ops, what they are and how they can be beneficial to you as a student.

What does co-op mean?
Co-op education, or co-operative education, is an academic program broken up with periods in which a student will be given an opportunity to work in an industry related to their schooling. Most co-op programs are structured so that each term or semester of schooling is alternated with a term or semester of work. The period of work outside the school is often called a work term.

Do you get paid in a co-op job?
Yes, university and college students who are placed at companies or other organizations for their work terms are paid for their work.

What would be an example of a co-op term?
If you were going to school and taking a co-op program in computer programming, a work term might involve working for a software development company. Similar to a regular employee, you would be supervised by a manager or supervisor. You might test or even write code for the company, just as a regular employee would, or assist a full-time employee. A student in a co-op program in business might fulfill the role of assistant to a manager or supervisor of a company or organization.

At the end of the work term, employers are asked to fill out a form evaluating the performance of the co-op student.

How do students get their co-op jobs?
Schools that offer co-op programs have departments or services that look for program-related employment for students in their co-op programs. It is not unusual for students to search out a suitable place of employment on their own as well. In a case where the student has found a place of employment on their own, the placement service or co-op department may have to determine if the job is suitable for the co-op.

If I do a co-op program, will I be guaranteed a job when I graduate?
You will not be guaranteed a job, but doing a co-op placement will give you the opportunity to network in your chosen industry and meet people who may be able to give you a job later on. A co-op program also eliminates that nasty catch-22 that recent graduates encounter when they are told that they do not have enough practical or industry experience to get their first job.

Do co-op programs cost more than regular programs?
In some cases, co-op programs are slightly more expensive than programs that do not have co-op terms, but this is usually true of programs with extra services, such as aid in getting jobs.

What do employers get out of hiring a co-op student?
There are several benefits to hiring co-op students. Employers get the chance to bring in someone full of new and fresh ideas and with the latest in training. They also get the chance to have someone take up slack during busy periods and to groom and possibly recruit future employees.

Where can I find more information about co-ops?
The advanced program search on SchoolFinder.com will give you a listing of co-op programs.

The Web site for Canadian Association of Co-operative Education and the Public Service Commission of Canada has a section of their Web site devoted to co-op programs.

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